I was reflecting on the heroic ways my fellow patients go about their day and struggle not to be defined or confined by their disease. We all have our secret methods of coping, which—in speaking to my fellow clinic patients—run from changing socks after a night sweat to the overall benefits of chocolate.
I would be holding back if I didn’t reveal my personal therapist: my dog Zoey. I regret to expound in this manner and make extensive apologies to non-dog people who I don’t get the connection between Homo sapiens and Canus familiarus. Still, I can’t help myself.
Zoey is an Australian labradoodle, a non-shedding canine bred from a long line of therapy dogs. We initially acquired her as a pup two years ago, because we wanted a dog who could come to the hospital with me and who would volunteer there with my son. Zoey is an empathetic soul, capable of feeling out the nature of a patient’s need, and providing peace and love. For some patients she is outgoing, while for others she sits back to draw them out. Many of our elderly hospital patients can’t own an animal anymore, and she gives them the chance to be with her. It is amazing to watch the stress drain away from our patients when she trots into the room.
My relationship with Zoey has evolved over the last two years. When she first came to us, my father was alive and symptom-free from his malignancy. This was also before my own diagnosis when I had a great deal more energy, and the full scope of my life seemed endless. She began as the Family Dog, with my responsibilities defined by her need for elimination. Yet, she was different even as a puppy. She quickly learned how to focus her amazing array of human sensors on each of our family members and determine who needed what from her. She would make the rounds, checking on each of us, playing ball with one, and contentedly offering her belly to another.
When my father died and the ceiling fell in, she ministered to each of us. Her ball got tucked away for a long while, as we explored the new normal of a household touched by one death and by the threat of another. In our mourning, Zoey offered us comfort and gave us a reason to get up that day.
As my disease progressed and fatigue set in, I found Zoey willing to lay down with me at mid-day. When I was ready to get back out in the world, she was my walking companion. The onset of therapy has been an adjustment. High-dose methylprednisolone leaves me agitated, tremulous and unable to rest. She will pace with me, check on me when I’m having a sweat, and walk down to the kitchen with me regardless of the time of night. I believe she knows that I am not myself, but she accepts me all the same.
And at the end of the day when night has fallen, I can always rely upon my “daughter” to bring me her leash and survey me for signs of life. She gives me the opportunity to seize normalcy from the day. I suspect that I’m not the only patient out there with a therapy (or at least therapeutic) animal. I would be grateful to hear from you about your own personal therapist.